Wednesday, 10 April 2013

There's a brand new talk, but it's not very clear

Listen to me - don't listen to me
Talk to me - don't talk to me
Dance with me - don't dance with me, no
(David Bowie, Fashion)

A gang of us traversed town to go the fantabulosa V&A last night for a much-anticipated evening with Boy George, talking about the influence David Bowie had on his own personal style and fashion. A great concept.

Unfortunately, we came away from it a little disappointed. For although Boy George: Bowie Style promised to be revelatory, in the company of interviewer author and journalist Paul Gorman the Boy was allowed free rein to ramble. I got the distinct impression that there was no strict running order of questions, and that somewhere along the line the crux of the matter was in danger of being lost among the cavalcade of seemingly random images.

George, it seems, was indeed a Bowie fan - but, tellingly, he developed his interests in "alternative" fashion independently, discovering the great man's music only late on when his older brothers had tired of it. Once he did develop a fascination for the Bowies - even camping outside their Beckenham home - it was evidently Angie (and the older Woolwich girls who dressed like her) who became the focus of his burgeoning campery. But it was Bowie's androgynous Hunky Dory "look" that eventually became the Boy's favourite of all.

Of course, Boy George is always charm personified, and listening to him ramble is still better than any number of inferior modern celebrity "interviews". Some of the anecdotes were excellent - such as the time Marilyn pissed Bowie off mightily by jumping into his lap uninvited, and the way that once Culture Club had become famous, George had no idea whether it was appropriate to behave like a "fellow celebrity" on the occasions he met David, or whether to give in to the temptations of his "inner fan" and just turn to jelly. He admitted he was pissed-off to have missed the opportunity - twice! - to appear in one of Bowie's videos (as had his friends Steve Strange and Princess Julia in Ashes to Ashes, and Eve Ferret in Blue Jean).

Altogether not as good an evening as the sum of its parts. Ange, Theo, Mark, Marcus Reeves, little Tony and I all enjoyed ourselves, however, and spent a rewarding few hours in the "Hoop and Toy" pub at South Kensington station afterwards (with the aforementioned Eve Ferret and some familar faces from Polari) dissecting it.

I came across this article by Bennett Faber from 6 Magazine, which does the job more succinctly:
"Plenty can be said about David Bowie’s fashion legacy. He is the style icon who inspired today’s style icons. He blanketed gender boundaries in a seductive, sexless fog. He nailed the orange mullet. Like any anointed style symbol, David Bowie was imaginative and fearless, but he was also more than the sum of what hung in his closet.

Though he had already achieved some chart success, David Bowie really arrived in 1972, when he released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. It is his first classic record, a parade of air-guitarables like “Ziggy Stardust,” “Suffragette City,” and “Starman.” But it was the album’s eponymous androgen that turned it into something mythic.

Glam rock already had some glittered ambassadors, but Ziggy Stardust was special. With designer Kansai Yamamoto acting as astral haberdasher, his wardrobe bristled with metallic knit body suits, satin kimonos, and sequin samurai pants. At his peak, Ziggy looked otherworldly, a fever dream in kabuki face paint and platform boots, mullet burning like Venus.

Bowie would later say that he “became” Ziggy Stardust. He showed up at interviews as he did on stage, clouding the distinction between the man and his creative image. It was a new kind of rock star aura, with Ziggy and Bowie became an endless source of fantasy, mystery, and inspiration.

“We used to go and stand outside his house in Beckenham,” said Boy George. “You had all these ideas about what was going on in there – that it was a real psychedelic, trippy household. It was kind of the idea of what they were like that was so fascinating.”

Living in this Gaga era, it’s easy to lose sight of just how daring Ziggy Stardust was. Until he sashayed onto Top of the Pops in a multicolor jumpsuit, male makeup wasn’t popular conversation. Teenage boys definitely weren’t posting up waifish, sexually ambiguous spacemen onto their bedroom walls.

The importance of fashion in Bowie’s music was rooted in his love of thespian weirdness. In the 1970s, while whirling across styles of glam, folk, and soul, he developed complex personas whose appearance augmented his sound. It’s hard to imagine Hunky Dory without its eccentric folkie, or Young Americans without its soul man, or Station to Station minus its spectral, coke-addled crooner.

And throughout it all, the clothes never wore him. Even at his weirdest, he was never gimmicky. His characters were manifest mood, serving as an extension of himself—or one of his selves.

We should honor David Bowie not only for doing it first, but also for doing it well. Plenty of musicians have gone on to build personalities outfitted in ballsy confections, but few besides Bowie have been able to merge music and closet with as much intensity, panache, and artistic integrity."
And here are some appropriate examples:


Blue Jean:

Boy George: Bowie Style was organised as part of the (largely sold-out) David Bowie is exhibition that is at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) to 28th July 2013.


  1. I am nearly green with envy, but thrilled that you were there. This is why I miss London. The V&A is simply the greatest museum on earth!

    1. It is indeed the greatest. The lecture theatre alone is a masterpiece of Victorian grandeur - accessed by the mosaic-clad Ceramic Staircase, via the greatest collection of ornate siverware this side of the Royal Collection - it has gigantic murals of all the great artists around its walls. Even Boy George must have felt puny amongst them. Jx

  2. Spot on blog as ever

    I am a big fan of both George and David, but felt this evening delivered less than I hoped for, I think the fact we didn't hear anything new was chiefly down to the questions asked.

    George was a fan of David Bowie's from a young age, he would have only been 10 in 1971 when he took the bust to Beckenham instead of getting the roll of film developed.

    George looked very well, and I liked the 1982 clip of George talking about the designer Sue Clowes that neither I nor George had seen before.

    See you at Polari x

    1. Many opportunities were missed last night where George was concerned. I was remarkably unimpressed with Mr Gorman's "interviewing skills" - I'm sure that there was much, much more that could have been teased out of the Boy, given the right inquisitor. Jx

  3. I was at the V&A to listen to Boy George's talk on Bowie and I don't agree with the previous comments. I enjoyed it very much. George can only talk about HIS experience and this he did. That some of it has been heard before is to be expected. I don't think he rambled, he answered the questions as honestly as he could. He quite rightly paid tribute to Angie Bowie, she was very important influence on David but seems to have been airbrushed out of Bowie history. I'm not sure what information could have been 'teased' out of George. He was there to tell us about the influence Bowie had on his life and he accomplished this with aplomb. Interesting to read that Jon thought that the right 'inquisitor' could have got more from George. This wasn't an inquisition. It was a guy sharing his experience.

    1. I enjoyed it too, Wendy. Maybe the word "inquisitor" is a word open to interpretation. I intended it as a synonym for interviewer, questioner or researcher, and in my, and others' opinions, this one was not the best. I have been to many, many "evenings with..." various people of equal fascination as Mr O'Dowd, and the person asking the questions usually has these in a rehearsed running order, giving points of reference from which the interviewee can input their thoughts, feelings and reminisces. George's thoughts, feelings and reminisces were there, and were great, but I still agree with the majority of comments I have received that (as a whole) these could have been structured much better. Jx

  4. It would be interesting to know how you would have presented the show, Jon. All relevant points were covered. Maybe Paul didn't think people would be interested in his take on things, maybe he thought they came to listen to George. If anyone felt under changed there was a Q&A session in which any pertinent questions could have been asked or any grievances addressed..

    1. I was not being paid to conduct the interview. I paid for the privelege of being in the audience. Jx

  5. I don't think a Q&A at the end of a talk is the right or polite place to air grievances about the talk.

    I think the evening was good, but George can be so animated when he wants to talk and is in his flow, and apart from the story about David Bowie pushing Marilyn off of his lap I didn't feel we got enough of Boy George in full flow...

  6. plus the most revealing answers did come during the Q&A which isn't a ringing endorsement of the interviewer...

  7. und this :

    1. If only he had been in conversation with Paul Morley (as that blogger mistakenly says). It might have been very different... Jx


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